H1N1 Experts Assail 'Fake' Pandemic Claim

Officials say science, not media frenzy, was the basis for the H1N1 response.

ByABC News
January 26, 2010, 5:41 PM

Jan. 26, 2010— -- The World Health Organization says its response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic could have been better, but it was not unduly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, nor was it swept away by media hype.

"We are under no illusions that this response was the perfect response," Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the agency's top flu expert, told a hearing being held by the Council of Europe's health committee.

But, he added, "the influenza pandemic policies and responses recommended and taken by WHO were not improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry."

The council's hearing is a response to criticism by some European politicians, as well as sections of the media, that the danger of the H1N1 pandemic was exaggerated, perhaps to allow drug companies to score multi-million-dollar contracts for vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

In North America, many experts defended the response to the outbreak, which last June WHO declared a phase six pandemic -- the highest level. The phases reflect that a disease is widely spread and causing disease in the community, but say nothing about the severity of the disease.

"I do not believe that the record supports the claim that health officials in the U.S. or WHO exaggerated the threat," said Dr. Andy Pavia of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Pavia said in an email that health officials had a choice -- to assume the threat was small, or to react strongly.

"The choice is obvious," Pavia said, "and I would not want to be in a position of explaining to the families of victims why we planned for the mildest outcome."

For the most part, illness caused by the disease has been mild, although several thousand people around the world have died and many more had disease serious enough to require intensive care.

But the relatively low number of deaths has prompted Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, a German member of the council's Parliamentary Assembly, to dub the outbreak a "false pandemic" and call for this week's hearing.

"What we have experienced now is that millions of people have been vaccinated unnecessarily," Wodarg said. "This is damage done to people, in order to earn money."